Royal Ballet Prima Ballerina Assoluta Margot Fonteyn (1919–91) was an iconic figure in British ballet. With Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton she was instrumental in shaping the Company, and was particularly renowned for her performances in the classics and as a muse for Ashton. Her dance partnership with Rudolf Nureyev towards the end of her career won them both worldwide fame.
Fonteyn was born Margaret Hookham in Reigate. She started ballet lessons aged four in Ealing. In 1928 her family moved to China, where she studied in Shanghai under George Goncharov. She returned to England in 1933 to study under Serfina Astafieva and in 1934 joined Sadler's Wells School. While a student she made her debut with Vic-Wells Ballet and made her solo debut that year as Young Tregennis (De Valois' The Haunted Ballroom). When Alicia Markova left the Company in 1935 Fonteyn took over many of her roles and went on to develop a great partnership with Robert Helpmann in the classical ballets. She was reaching the end of her career when she first performed with Nureyev in Giselle in February 1962. Through Nureyev Fonteyn discovered new resources, and their partnership became one of the most famed in ballet's history.
Fonteyn's dancing was distinguished by its perfect line and exquisite lyricism, qualities evident in the roles created on her by Ashton. These include Ondine, Cinderella, Chloë, Marguerite and roles in Symphonic Variations and Homage to The Queen.
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Margot Fonteyn in costume as Princess Aurora, Act I of The Sleeping Beauty, 1951 © ROH/Roger Wood
John Tooley and Margot Fonteyn cutting the Taglioni cake on 30 May 1981
Cristina and Francesca dressing mannequin with dress designed by Cecil Beaton and worn by Margot Fonteyn as Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand, 1963 ©Sarah Bailey Hogarty 2012
Margot Fonteyn, Michael Somes and Frederick Ashton in rehearsal for Ondine © Roger Wood/ROH 1958
Margot Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife and Léonide Massine as The Miller in the The Three Cornered Hat (1947) © Roger Wood/ROH 1947
Margot Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife and Alexander Grant as The Dandy in The Three Cornered Hat (1947) © Roger Wood/ROH 1947
Margot Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife and Léonide Massine as The Miller in The Three Cornered Hat (1947) © Roger Wood/ROH 1947
Recreation of Margot's Fonteyn's dressing room © ROH 2011
Margot Fonteyn, a famous exponent of the Rose Adagio © ROH 2011
Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals © 1962 Royal Opera House/Donald Southern